Ireland on Stanford


Royal College of Music

When Ireland entered the Royal College of Music in 1893, it was inevitable that he would eventually study with Stanford, and indeed he became a composition pupil in 1897. At Stanford’s death, a collection of tributes in Music and Letters (V/3, July, 1924, pp.193–207) included words of appreciation from Bainton, Bridge, Dunhill, George Dyson, James Friskin, Nicholas Gatty, Gurney, Leslie Heward, Howells, Ireland, Henry Lee, Samuel Liddle, Sydney Nicholson, Harold Samuel, Vaughan Williams and Walford Davies. Perhaps curiously, Holst is missing from this list, despite being a pupil at the same time as Ireland. Although each of these had a different take on Stanford as a man and composer, a common thread is that their teacher was a consummate technician who never tolerated sloppy work. Bridge felt ‘bruised’, but aware of ‘the truth of his criticism’, while Howells wrote that none of his pupils ‘lived in the easy atmosphere of neutrality’. The Yorkshire-born pianist Samuel Liddle (1867–1951) felt that his first year with Stanford was ‘not a bed of roses. There Irelandwas no softness in his methods with me, and he was right’. It might seem that these composers found his teaching style oppressive, yet they also comment generally on his kindness and desire to see his pupils achieve their potential. Ireland’s own tribute seems almost muted, yet also refers obliquely to Stanford’s ability to inspire affection. Many years later, talking retrospectively, Ireland had very similar memories:

‘I think the best quality Stanford possessed as a teacher was that he made you feel nothing but the best would do. He wouldn’t let you write in pencil. He held that you would have more respect for what you did if you wrote in ink. He could be severely critical, almost cruel at times.  I recall once writing something for orchestra for him. He looked at it and must have known at once that there were all kinds of errors in it, but he told me to go home and copy the parts. When I brought  them   back  he  tried   it  over  with   the   College orchestra and made me stand on the rostrum beside him. The orchestra made the most appalling sounds. Everything went wrong and I was utterly humiliated. But Stanford played it through in its entirety. Then he turned to me and, handing me the score, said, ‘Well you see, my boy, it won’t do will it? You’ll have to find some other way.’ And one did, you know’ (in Murray Schafer. British Composers in Interview. London: Faber, 1963, p. 27).

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